Tahoe practice is offering HPV vaccine | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe practice is offering HPV vaccine

Susan Wood
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Dr. Kelly Shanahan displays the new HPV vaccine.

Mothers cringe over three words from their daughters: “I’ve had sex.”

The disclosure brings about several considerations and consequences, but one that’s recently arisen these days involves the human papillomavirus. The term stands for the name of a group of sexually-transmitted viruses that include more than 100 different genital strains or types. It’s the leading cause of cervical cancer, a highly treatable disease with regular screenings and now a vaccine from Merck for HPV.

“No woman should die of cervical cancer,” said Dr. Kelly Shanahan of Emerald Bay Center for Women’s Health. Shanahan’s practice is one in South Lake Tahoe that has received the Gardasil vaccine for girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26.

About 10,000 American women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, with an average of 10 dying each day from the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. In the United States, 20 million people are infected with HPV, virus types that may lie dormant until they show up as genital warts among other symptoms.

The doctor recalled having to tell a nun she had contracted HPV after going 15 years without sex.

“Can you imagine having to do that?” she said.

Shanahan said HPV has been around for a long time, but better screening methods have brought the condition to light. The news of Gardasil’s approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June has sent doctors and parents inquiring about it.

Fulfilling both roles, Shanahan said she cringes when a teenager who she believes is sexually active comes in for a visit.

“I look at this as a physician and a mom. It could be my (7-year-old) daughter,” she said.

Shanahan said she realizes there may be opposition from some parents for the same reason birth control is so inflammatory. “This is not a promiscuity issue. We can hope our daughters make the right choices and wait until they get married. But at some point, your daughter is probably going to have sex as a teenager,” she said.

Her response is consistent – the vaccine has a high rate of success at protecting against cervical cancer.

That’s all Staci Garner needed to hear. The mother of a 14-year-old daughter who looks closer to age 17 is prepared to soon give her daughter the vaccine because she feels her work is cut out for her when older boys come around or her daughter goes out.

Hormones seem to speak the loudest.

“I think girls (these days) have to be more guarded. I tell her: ‘Honey, they’ll say anything. When the hormones start raging, all bets are off.’ It scares me to death. That’s why I’m glad the vaccine came out. It’s going to save a lot of lives,” she said.

Side effects of Gardasil include: pain, fever, swelling, itching, redness at the injection site or in rare cases difficulty breathing.

One setback may be considered the cost, with insurance coverage being an unknown so early in the vaccine’s arrival. Three injections cost $450, a little over the physician’s cost.

Phone calls were made to other South Shore medical practices including: Tahoe Family Physicians, Sierra Family Care, Tahoe Women’s Care and Alpine Family Practice – with the Emerald Bay Center for Women’s Health being the one known place here to receive the vaccine.

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